I am the co-founder of Mentii, an online mentoring platform connecting successful mentors with aspiring young people. I started the business both in New York and Bangalore in order to benefit from capital, talent and the market across two startup hubs. But, as the co-founder of Mentii, it was imperative that I could work on the U.S. side. This is where the trouble began.

The whole visa process was an expensive distraction, especially during the early bootstrapped stage when the team needed to devote all their resources to finding and proving the market. After receiving a protracted Request For Evidence (RFE), where responding to it would have resulted in further legal expenses, I had no choice but to withdraw my visa application. This is despite the fact that Mentii had already invested 40 percent of their total expenditure on immigration-related costs!

Here is a video about my story, which you can see on Engine Advocacy’s website: http://engine.is/articles/startups-speak-sumit-suman. Ask Me Anything about Immigration Reform, my company, my story, and I’m glad to be here working for the March for Innovation (http://marchforinnovation.com) so that more people like me can start business in the U.S. and stay there.

I’ll be answering questions from 10am ET. AMA!

(And proof that it's me: https://twitter.com/arraysum/status/337560191040098305)

(Edit: added link to the March for Innovation so you can march too!)

Comments: 57 • Responses: 14  • Date: 

RFlayer11 karma

You were sent an RFE, and didn't have the capital to complete it? Tops, you're looking at $1-2k to work with a lawyer to file the RFE.

I think there's more to your story than you're telling us. Like, possibly that you don't meet the criteria for getting the visa.

You talk about starting a business in the US and staying there. But your business is actually located in Bangalore.

I have two questions, the first is a two-part question:

  1. Why was responding to the RFE so onerous that you decided to waste your apparently huge immigration investment? Is it possible that the reason for the high cost is that you didn't meet the criteria, not that the process is onerous?

  2. You claim to be starting a business in NY and Bangalore. Yet your employees are all in Bangalore. Were you planning on having any of your operations other than sales and marketing in NY?

engineadvocacy1 karma

  1. We had already invested too much capital (lawyer costs + payroll taxes) from day one of our business. When it came to RFE, we decided to call it a sunk cost and withdraw the application. As for the application eligibility is concerned, there is no clear guideline on it and I can't comment on whether I met the criteria -- our lawyer felt it was a strong application.

  2. Two of our cofounders were in New York. The whole back end was coded here, and we would have grown tech team here as well. Sales and marketing, of course!

kurds_way10 karma

When I read your story I thought "Well, if everyone whose business lives would be easier in the US were granted a visa, we'd have half the world's population." Any thoughts on this?

engineadvocacy3 karma

We chose US (New York), because I went to graduate school here, had worked here, and had developed a support system here.

JRobNYC7 karma

If you could get a visa today, would you move your business here?

engineadvocacy8 karma

Yes. I'll move, and we will grow the US team. From a business perspective, it makes sense for us be in US. The market is more mature, users are more mature, the ecosystem is unparalleled, and it is easier to raise capital.

However, we will continue growing the India team as well, as it has its own advantages and my cofounder lives here.

Orwell846 karma

Have you heard of http://blueseed.co/ ? They're a group that wants to buy a cruise ship and station it 12 miles off the coast of Silicon Valley. That way anyone in the world can create a startup near the resources of Silicon Valley without the need for visas. What are your thoughts on this?

engineadvocacy2 karma

I'm not sure if it's for me. I'd love to live in a place, where I can grow as well. I love cities, and hope to have a life outside of the startup too. I chose New York, because I went to school there and had the support system in place.

Blueseed might be interesting for short term -- which startups can anyways do on a more relaxed business visitor visa, often with help from accelerators.

tans1115 karma

Are there resources available for those who cannot afford expensive lawyers to file their visa?

engineadvocacy2 karma

It felt like a very detailed application, and better lawyers increase the chances of your application successfully navigating what seems like a very subjective process. Also, significant amount of paperwork was required.

I could not have filed my application without my lawyer's support.

SuperTarK4 karma

Have you looking into moving to Canada?


I think its targeted exactly to people in your situation.

engineadvocacy3 karma

It looks like a very bold and great move. For us, the additional consideration is whether it is worth the effort to maintain the team in two places -- does Canada, the ecosystem & the market, offer enough benefits to justify that. US certainly justifies it. Probably too early to call for Canada.

HolyWah3 karma

Thanks for doing this! What do you think you could have accomplished if you hadn't been dragged down by the immigration process?

engineadvocacy3 karma

The money could have made a big difference. Particularly in the early stages. We could have added more resources to the team. It could have speeded up the design and development of the product, and would have given us additional time to go to the users. We could have spent a bit on marketing too.

It is hard to quantify what impact it could have made -- but you can imagine what a 3 person team early stage team could do with additional & significant capital!

And more importantly, the continued uncertainty around where I was going to be was a emotional distraction for the whole team.

JRobNYC3 karma

How many jobs have you created in India?

engineadvocacy3 karma

Including my cofounder, 3 people have worked for Mentii in India.

HolyWah8 karma

What level-jobs are these? What education is required, and can America supply that talent?

engineadvocacy2 karma

Certainly! 2 developers (Ruby on Rails, Javascript) and 1 designer. Great guys.

America is the largest pool of such talent -- we are confident that we could attract a great team there too!

holdthatsnot3 karma

Have you read the gang-of-eight proposal, and if yes, what are your thoughts on that proposal ?

engineadvocacy2 karma

Yes. I like the proposal. It removes the biggest ambiguity around entrepreneur visa. At least, it will become crystal clear on what we need. I hope that will also lower legal costs as standard, clear cut guidelines means startups could use more templatized documents.

There are aspects of the proposal that could be debated. Particularly, whether it will force immigrant entrepreneurs to be dependent on venture capital. However, that is a whole new debate!

brettfrazer2 karma

Why do you feel it's important to bring business to the United States? I mean, why not leave the U.S. and help spur economic growth elsewhere?

engineadvocacy4 karma

US gives the best ecosystem, and market for a startup like ours. The chances of succeeding are higher there, and in the process it ends up being win-win for both startups and US.

Having said that, I take a very capitalist view on it. If the cost of doing business is too high in the US, we will take it elsewhere.

NomadicHerdsman2 karma

What is the biggest obstacle in working with people from New York while living in India? What makes your e-commute most difficult?

engineadvocacy2 karma

It's hard to grow the culture, and feel like a team. Specially early in our lifecyle, when we need to take quick decisions throughout the day.

We can certainly manage one off efforts remotely, at a later stage, but those would be need based exceptions.

engineadvocacy2 karma

Thank you everyone for participating in the AMA. I really appreciated the thoughtful questions, and enjoyed answering them. This is a very important issue, and needs all the support it can get.

Best wishes!

tans1111 karma

What should my plan B if my h1 is rejected?

engineadvocacy3 karma

I think you should consult a lawyer. Every case is unique, and it is hard to give a blanket answer.